If Steve Marshall is put back in office as Alabama’s Attorney General, he plans to put George Martin back on Death Row. Conversely, he also has no intention of looking into anything more regarding whether his predecessor, Luther Strange, illegally interfered in the Luv Guv investigation, or drilling into the dark-money account Robert Bentley used to pay his girlfriend.
It’s a stark juxtaposition that may say a lot about a man still trying to scrape the Bentley mud off his shoes as he seeks to keep his job as AG. Marshall was in our office earlier this week talking about the issues surrounding his effort to be put back in office for a full term as Alabama’s Attorney General.
Though we talked about many things, one of the things that stood out was that his office will be retrying Martin after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled last month that a 2016 decision by Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Robert Smith dismissing the capital murder indictment against Martin had gone too far. The AG’s office appealed Smith’s ruling, which was upheld by the appeals court but flipped by the supremes.
I suppose the desire to keep going after Martin stands in stark contrast to Marshall’s professed helplessness when it comes to ever actually being able to dig into the Bentley/Strange mess and finally give the public a full accounting of what happened during one of the biggest scandals in state history.
Marshall is a prosecutor, and prosecutors love to see themselves as being unrelenting when it comes to meting out justice. So that’s probably appealing about firing up the state’s judicial apparatus to go after a guy who’s already served 15 years åon Death Row for his wife’s 1995 death, only to have it uncovered that the state’s star witness misidentified Martin in a lineup and prosecutors hid that, as well as other evidence beneficial to Martin, from the defense.
But the state’s top law enforcement officer is hardly as hard charging when it comes to pulling back the curtain on the slimy dealings engaged in by his predecessor and the man who lifted him from a district attorney’s position in Marshall County to statewide office.
To be fair, Marshall is legitimately handicapped in some respect by being appointed by a governor running headlong for a jail cell. Marshall immediately recused himself from any involvement in investigating Bentley and appointed Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks special prosecutor to handle the deed. We all know the rest. Brooks essentially came back blaming a lack of applicable law for not being able to go after Bentley for what to the layman looked like a clear misuse of public resources and abuse of power.
Cynics might point out the fact that Brooks used the same tactic before in not going after former Gov. Bob Riley and then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard for PAC-to-PAC transfers. Was Marshall counting on that? The world may never know.
But while Bentley has at least been through some kind of investigation, Big Luther has not — as far as we know. Marshall told us that for all he knows, Brooks may in fact have investigated whether there was any quid pro quo for Strange when Bentley appointed him to the state’s open U.S. Senate seat even as the AG’s office was investigating the governor.
Marshall says we can’t know and will never know because grand jury secrecy is sacred and he can’t ask the prosecutor because he recused himself. It’s kind of a neat box.
So the guy who wants to be attorney general for four more years essentially has said with him in office there’s really no way to investigate what to many in this state looked like raw bribery that landed Strange a U.S. Senate seat and Bentley a sweet, painless slide from handcuffs to a new career in CoolSculpting. We’ll never know if any deal was made. We’ll never have an investigation into AG Strange writing letters to the EPA supporting Drummond Co.’s efforts to avoid a Superfund cleanup in north Birmingham, then getting $25,000 campaign contributions from the company after each one was sent.
Sure, it’s probably easier to go after George Martin again, and it’s certainly not as messy. True, the case looks wobbly, but it’s amazing what prosecutors can do when they’re motivated. It’s also amazing what they won’t do when they’re not. It probably doesn’t help that Martin is suing everyone he believes was involved in improperly putting him behind bars for 15 years.
It’s hard not to like Steve Marshall. He’s bright, easygoing and friendly. And he’s making his way through horrible personal tragedy.
But the Alabama Attorney General still struggles to scrape the mud of the Robert Bentley scandal off his shoes as he runs for election. We’ve had a number of attorney general candidates come through the office, and a couple of them very bluntly said one of their first priorities if elected would be to reopen the Bentley and Big Luther saga. That’s clearly not part of Marshall’s agenda.
Marshall will face Democratic nominee Joseph Siegelman in the general election this November, and all signs point to him retaining his job as Alabama’s top law enforcement official. Siegelman has run a good campaign, but it’s tough enough being a Democrat in Alabama, much less the son of a disgraced governor.
And I’m not saying Marshall can’t be a quality attorney general, but by not digging into the very scandal that put him in office, Marshall will never distance himself from it. There will always be those who think he was in on the “deal,” despite his firm admonitions that he never promised Bentley or Strange anything.
In the meantime, taking one more shot at George Martin may serve to distract from the investigation that never was.